It’s no secret that lithium-ion is an endangered resource. With continual technical advancements and increased global demand, the rate at which lithium is being reproduced far exceeds its availability. To combat lithium-ion depletion, a University of Texas professor and his team have devised the ultimate solution of extraction in large bodies of water.
Imagine fishing for lithium-ion particles! That’s an awkward picture, but it’s more likely than you might think.
How it Works — The Technique:
They use a metal-organic framework (MOFs) membrane that mimics the filtering function of biological cell membranes. Basically, it makes use of an apparatus (of sorts) that can sift through these particles and extract them in the most effective manner.
But First, What is an MOF?
MOFs are made up of metal ions that are coordinated to organic molecules to form complex structures. MOFs can gather, store and release different compounds. They have the greatest internal surface area of any substance known today.
Specifically, this membrane process can effectively separate metal ions. This could be a breakthrough in water and mining industries, and lead to environmental growth opportunities in Texas.
A Bit of Geographical Context:
Wastewater in The Barnett and Eagle Ford shale formations in Texas contain large amounts of lithium. That’s not exactly a good thing, but it’s kind of great when it comes to this method of extraction because the idea is to extract resulting lithium and put it to use in other industries.
Each well in the facility can generate around 300,000 gallons of water a week. The team believes that a week’s worth of produced water can extract enough lithium to power 200 electric cars, or 1.6 million smartphones.
This could help with water desalination, meaning that it can remove toxins through the water in a more ergonomic manner. This would mean that the new membrane dehydrates ions as they pass through membrane channels, and only removes select ions rather than removing them all. A process like this could prove to be more cost-effective, and utilize less energy in comparison.
Currently, the way to desalinate water is through the process of reverse osmosis, which uses a porous membrane to remove ions, molecules and other particles.
What makes this particular new method so effective is that it simply removes select ions. A process as selective as this can be the answer to shortages in lithium-ion, and ultimately prove as an example of sustainability through innovation.
It can also turn this waste water stream into a resource opportunity because it makes it more commercially viable. Lithium is extracted from rocks and brines using costly chemical treatments. This offers a solution that not only benefits consumer demand, but market restrictions.